Covid restrictions lifting
As from today, almost all mandatory Covid restrictions are being lifted in England in what is a huge gamble with public health. The fact that this is happening when there are more than 50,000 new infections a day is even more alarming, and underscores how reckless this Government is being over Covid.
The Prime Minister and Health Secretary’s rhetoric about “roadmaps to freedom” ignores the fact that the freedom of those who are clinically vulnerable or otherwise at risk is undermined by giving others the freedom to abandon mask-wearing or other Covid measures. I have heard from constituents who are fearful about visiting local shops or using public transport because they are at risk. And during a session of the all-party group on Coronavirus, I heard powerful and moving evidence from families living with Long Covid and from medical experts who all warned about the dangers of lifting of so many Covid restrictions.
Nor has the Government done anything to fix the failing test, trace & isolate system, and too many people are still not self-isolating when they have symptoms because they can’t afford to. Too much reliance is being placed on the vaccine rollout – even though a third of the adult population have yet to be fully vaccinated. If this vaccine wall is undermined by the third wave of the virus, it will be because of this Government’s decision to wash its hands of any responsibility and put ideological dogma ahead of public health.
Covid in Brighton
High numbers of Covid cases in Brighton and Hove mean a number of measures have had to be put in place to try to slow down the infection rate, allowing more people to get vaccinated. There are additional testing sites in the city at the Peace Statue in Hove and in Jubilee Square and Covid marshalls from the Council will be out and about reminding people how to keep safe (details here). If you’ve not yet had a vaccination, please get one so we can build on all the hard work that’s been done to keep the city safe and businesses open.
Nationality & Borders bill
This is a bill which lacks all compassion or fairness. It will criminalise people who flee to the UK seeking asylum simply because of how they arrive here, ignoring the war, persecution or terror they may have fled, or whether they should be given refugee status. It will do nothing to repair a broken system – in fact, it’s likely to make it worse by driving desperate people into the hands of criminal gangs because all legal and safe avenues to asylum are being closed off. I wrote about my opposition to this bill in the House magazine. I also tabled a so-called Reasoned Amendment against the bill – you can see it here.
Even by the standards of privatised water companies, the actions of Southern Water over a six year period were shocking – the repeated pollution incidents, deliberate dumping of raw sewage in rivers and coastal waters, the deliberate cover-up and the fact that it was done to line the pockets of shareholders. It’s not surprising that Southern Water is repeatedly singled out as the worse performing water company. The Government should acknowledge that privatisation has failed and bring water companies back into public ownership.
Cut in overseas aid
It was sickening to see Tory MPs line up to back the Government’s cut in overseas aid, and the conditions imposed by the Chancellor which make it very unlikely it will return to 0.7% of GDP anytime soon. This cut breaks a Conservative manifesto promise (as many Tory rebels pointed out) and is a betrayal of the world’s poorest. It is also another battering of the UK’s reputation and diminishing influence on the world stage, and bodes ill for the credibility of the UK Government as hosts of the UN climate summit COP26 in Glasgow in November.
Tory MPs also lined up to approve the Health and Care Bill, which is a further attack on the principle of a publicly-owned and funded health system. The bill further entrenches privatisation, allows corporate take-overs of GP services, gives private health care companies a say on how NHS money is spent and fails to address long-term underfunding and low pay. I will be opposing it.
Transport and climate change
We learned last week what the Government’s plans are to decarbonise the transport sector in order to help meet the target of net zero emissions by 2050. Any Transport Decarbonisation Plan worthy of the name would have immediately cancelled the Government’s £27bn road building plans. Instead, the proposals focussed disproportionately on switching from petrol or diesel to election vehicles. Sadly there was no real ambition when it came to public transport (eg no plan like free buses - see below) and the idea that aviation can be emissions-free within the next two decades is fantasy.
This transport strategy failed to grasp the scale of the change needed, nor the opportunities that change offers in terms of moving away from dependence on private cars in favour local transport networks and re-imagining our towns and cities. I was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the plans.
Food, health and the environment
The food system in our country is in urgent need of reform. We are locked into a spiral of poor quality food, laden with sugar and salt, which is ruining people’s health while intensive farming is destroying the health of the land. The second part of a Government-commissioned National Food Strategy was published last week, filled with ideas on how to reshape the food system in a way that works for consumers, public health, farmers and the environment – I discussed some of the proposals with the author Henry Dimbleby on Channel 4 News. It was really disappointing to hear the Prime Minister reject one of the main recommendations before he’d even read the report.
The Environmental Justice Commission
For the past 2 years, I have been working as a Co-chair of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, alongside former Conservative MP Laura Sandys and first Labour’s Ed Miliband, and then Hilary Benn to put forward proposals on how we transition in a fair way to net zero emissions and restore nature. We published our report last week, based on four in-depth Citizens’ Juries which took place in parts of the UK which are on the front line of environmental and social change. The report, and our discussions, made clear that there must be a “fairness lock” on the changes to come as this is key to winning public support. If governments take a people-first approach with direct public involvement in decision-making, the shift to a zero carbon future could deliver better transport, good new jobs and better health and wellbeing. The Commission’s report was covered by a number of papers, including the Guardian.
Limits to Growth
I chaired an online event addressing two of the biggest issues facing our society: the social care crisis and an economic model that is letting down people and destroying our planet. I’m backing a petition launched by a Brighton resident for a parliamentary debate on how we should address this by switching to a wellbeing economy. Please sign the petition if you’ve not done so already.
I’m a big supporter of the campaign to erect a statue in Brighton to Mary Clarke, the Women’s Social and Political Union Organiser for Brighton from 1909-1910, and the first suffragette to die in the struggle to win women the right to vote. The Mary Clarke Statue Appeal was set up in late 2018 and plans to erect a bronze statue of Mary close to the Brighton Museum entrance on the Royal Pavilion Estate in the heart of the City. The scheme has Council and all-party political support and has charity status. I had a chance to see a maquette of the proposed statue at the Jubilee Library – it looks wonderful. If you’d like to support the campaign, you can donate here.